Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sparrow, Undisturbed

This morning a white-throated sparrow
sat among the dried leaves on the forest floor.
It was chilly out, so it was puffed up into a perfectly round ball.
I studied its features through the binoculars:
Perfect black bars on its head. A white collar at its throat.
Yellow feathers near its eyes. Tawny streaks upon its breast.
The sparrow sat near a dove as both pecked at seeds
that had fallen from the feeder.
The dove departed.
The sparrow sat.
And sat.
And sat longer still.
Now the robin's song lilts from a distant tree,
the sparrow turns its head slightly to the left.
When the geese call from the lake,
the sparrow turns its head slightly to the right.
A blue jay squawks from above,
and the sparrow raises its head ever so slightly.
A squirrel jumps into a nearby feeder.
But sparrow still sits.
And sits.
And sits.
For more than 20 minutes,
the sparrow rests himself among the leaves, undisturbed.

The sparrow sits to the right of the second slate in the foreground.
 I hadn't noticed the symmetry of the sparrow
and the pine cones along the slates until I saw the photo.
Our elegant universe perhaps.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

February 28th is a special day:
usually the last day of February, the eve of March and its promise of spring.
 The 28th brings joy for what is to come and sorrow for what has gone.
So today, it is fitting to focus on a sunrise and a sunset from here in the Shire.

Facing east, the sun rises over the Chesapeake Bay. 

Facing west, the sun sets over the James River.

In some cultures, the fresh new day starts not at sunrise,
but at sunset the evening before. So what may seem like an ending,
is a beginning to another's eyes. And that gives hope.


Monday, February 27, 2012

In Search of Carolina Jessamine

Yesterday my dearest and I 
set out to look for Carolina Jessamine,
a narrow-leafed evergreen vine with bright yellow flowers
 that twists and turns through the trees.
Carolina Jessamine blooms here in mid-February, well before the daffodils.
But this has been an unusual weather year, so the daffodils have been
in full flower for quite sometime. So I wondered about the Jessamine.

We made our way to a marsh bordered by woods near here,
and there it was draped across the tree branches.
It's blossoms were just beginning to show.

We turned down a path to cross the bridge over the marsh,
and there was more.

The small trumpets will open soon,
revealing the sweet fragrance of its nectar,
attractive to butterflies and bees.  

When the Carolina Jessamine blooms, can Spring be far behind?


Sunday, February 26, 2012


There are many evergreen plants and trees in the Shire;
that's one reason it is pleasant to live here.

These strawberry plants next to the foundation of my house
stay green over the winter.

There is boxwood, of course.
It has the most delightful scent, one unlike any other.
This plant is very small,
so I often brush my fingers against it to release its fragrance.
Large boxwood plants scent the air around them
without first being touched.

These are Japanese painted ferns.
They are supposed to turn orange and red in the autumn,
but without sun, they stay a light yellow-green.

And variegated vinca is unphased by winter's cold.

And of course, wax myrtle.
It grows at the edge of the woods where the sunlight makes it lush.
Some grows in the woods behind my house, but
the shade is too heavy, so it stays rather wispy.
This is in full sun across the way, near a small lake.

When the cold winter wind blows as it has the last couple of days,
it's nice to look out the window and see
so many lush green plants amidst the bare trees and brown grass.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

More Colors of Late Winter

In the Shire this week, the temperatures ranged from below freezing
to a summery 83 degrees yesterday. But they cooled considerably after a 
strong wind blew in cold and rain overnight. 
And so it is that we move between winter and spring
through February into early March.

I love the little weed patches that pop up in the grass
this time of year. They bring tiny spots of color
into the tangles of dead grass and dried leaves.

These tiny blue flowers are my favorites.
Yesterday a tiny honey bee moved
from blue flower to blue flower sipping nectar.

There are also bright yellow dandelions.

And miniature yellow buttercups.

There are many more vivid colors of late winter here.
I'll show those next week.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Mistletoe--Not just for Christmas

I have always been fascinated by mistletoe,
and until I lived in the Shire, I had never seen any.
Last Christmas, I was in a shop that was selling sprigs of mistletoe,
so I could see it up close. The leaves are small, roundish, and greenish-gray,
and clusters of small white berries adorn the branches.

Mistletoe has an interesting cultural and linguistic history.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
mistletoe was harvested by the Druids for use in their religious ceremonies
because they thought it had magical powers. 

In the 16th century,
a book of health advice suggested to the reader that
mistletoe was an herb which would, when applied to the head, draw out
"corrupt humours." The most powerful mistletoe,
and therefore the most desirable, was said to grow in oak trees.

The name "mistletoe" is derived from the Old English words mistle,
a variant of Old English mix or "dung"
and teanel ( pronounced tee-nal ) meaning "twig."
This is because mistletoe seeds are spread in bird droppings
which adhere to a tree's bark, and that's how the mistletoe
gets into the tree in the first place.

Sometimes, there is only one: 

Sometimes there are two:

Sometimes, many!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Still Waters

In the southeastern part of Virginia, there is water everywhere. 
To the east, the Atlantic Ocean. 
To the north, the Chesapeake Bay. And as the Bay  meets the Ocean,  tidal rivers and 
brackish creeks branch off  from them and criss-cross the land, 
leaving small lakes, waterways, swamps, ponds, and marshes.
On some days, the waters are calm and shine like glass.

Here is a pond near where I live.

And here is a nearby marsh after the tide has come in. 

At low tide, this water gradually goes out, returning to the Elizabeth River.

There is something peaceful and comforting about still waters.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weather Changes

         It seems this time of year, one never knows what to expect from the weather. At 24 degrees, yesterday morning was about the coldest winter morning we've had here in the Shire. A red cardinal sat in the sun, its feathers plumped up against the morning chill. And in the woods behind my house, the sunlight fell in long patches across the ground; 
but in front of the house, frost covered all.

Here's frost on the Asian jasmine near my front door.

In winter the frost settles in the darkness, then the sun comes up, and for a brief interval  the frost sparkles and glitters 
in the light, before it disappears without notice. 

But the weather changes ...

and soon after the sunlight had warmed everything, the clouds came out and the wind picked up and everyone asked, "Where did the sun go?" But around noon the sun came out again. And then the clouds moved in again and it got colder and  rain fell heavily. A few hours passed and the rain stopped ...

and 12 deer came out to feed in a meadow near where I work

As I made my way back home, an intensely orange sun filled the sky with a dazzling, nearly blinding light.
A blue-gray twilight, then darkness. 
And this morning, sunlight again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mystery in the Shire

There are mysteries here in the woods. For example ...
What creature might have crept quietly through the night 
and chewed the exposed root of the fig tree?  
Or the trunk of the pine sapling?
Maybe it was the doe that came clopping down the street
in the early morning and then disappeared
into the woods across the way.
Or what might one find as they pass through this arbor
and round the gentle curve into the garden?

What woodland creatures might dwell inside of here?

Hmmm ..... sometimes it's better not to know!


Monday, February 20, 2012


Last night the northern shires of Virginia received snow.

These are the only snow drops we have here in the lower shire.

We didn't get snow, but it rained here through the evening and into the night. Everything this morning is wet and rain drops cling to the bare branches of the redbud trees. It is colder today and so cardinals and chickadees and nuthatches are busy at the feeders.

I do admire the nuthatch's ability to descend a tree headfirst, and he has done it more than once this morning on his way to feed. On the other hand, chickadees never seem to travel on their feet. They fly into the feeders along a straight line, like tiny arrows loosed from a bow. A moment ago, a chickadee dropped straight down into the feeder the way a spider drops from its web.

When the wind blows, the birds absent themselves. As I write they are yet to return to feed. I always wonder where they go. I like to think they are tucked into cozy little nests, dry and warm, with nothing to do but listen to the wind and wait for the sun to come out.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Colors of Late Winter

 Even though February days are often gray, there is color in the late winter here.

There are always pansies.

There are red, white, and pink camelias.

And of course, lots of green grass and evergreen shrubs like laurels and viburnums.

This week I will show other colors of late winter.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mid-February in the Shire II

Although this season has been more like spring, today it has returned to winter. In typical February style, a night with brilliant stars emerges from the dark
into another morning overcast, cold, and gray. 

                  The gray foliage of the lavendar hedge rests against the brick foundation.

Without its leaves, the fig tree stands like a gray sculpture against the green.

And the slate path winds through the forest floor. 
 In the gray days of February, everything quiets, everything stills.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mid-February in the Shire

Rain last night gave way to a misty morning. But  life in the Shire stirs. Yesterday before the rain, a gray squirrel with a small branch of dried oak leaves in its mouth inched its way up a tree. The oak leaves scratched against the bark as he ascended. Today the squirrels skitter up and down the oak trees. A wren lights quickly on the rail and departs. Chickadees and juncos peck at seeds. The sky will become luminous blue later today and the branches will appear dark and bare against it. And as always, the camellias bloom brightly.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Gray Morning

Late winter mornings are often gray, the sky overcast. All is still outside my windows this morning. There are no squirrels foraging through the leaves on the forest floor, no birds feeding nearby. No quiet footsteps on the slate path. The world at rest awaits the coming of Spring.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A brief history of this Virginia shire

  In 1634, King Charles I of England directed the establishment of 8 shires in the colony of Virginia. One of these, the Elizabeth Cittie Shire, as well as the Elizabeth River that flows through the Cittie's southern half, were named in honor of Elizabeth of Bohemia,  the eldest daughter of King James I of England and Anne of Denmark. Elizabeth Stuart  of Bohemia, sometimes referred to as  the Winter Queen because of her husband Frederick V of Germany's brief reign as King of Bohemia, was also known for her beautiful gardens at Heidelberg Castle.  

In 1636, the Elizabeth Cittie Shire was divided into counties, including what eventually became Norfolk County. Today, the most southern part of the Shire is known as the city of Chesapeake, and it is life along the Elizabeth River in this city this journal will describe.  --source: Wikipedia

Monday, February 13, 2012